There's no doubt that life would be much simpler if we could altogether avoid stress. However, we cannot escape it. While a bit of stress is good for helping us take action, experiencing high levels of perceived chronic stress is different. It can lead to a whole host of health issues.
To help you figure out if the signs and symptoms you're experiencing are related to stress, let's look at the common ones.
Several studies have found that acne may be associated with elevated stress levels. In one study, the researchers measured acne severity in 22 students before and during an exam. They found that raised stress levels were linked to greater acne severity.
However, it's important to keep in mind that while keeping stress levels at a minimum is better for your skin health, other factors can affect the formation of acne, such as bacteria, blocked pores, excess sebum production, and hormonal shifts.
High stress can contribute to chronic physical pain. Studies have found that an increase in cortisol—the stress hormone—may be linked to chronic pain. Among a group with chronic back pain, researchers found that they also had higher cortisol levels than the control group.
But other factors can also trigger chronic pain. These factors, such as aging, injuries, poor posture, and nerve damage, weren't considered in existing studies.
Depression or Low Mood
Chronic stress raises the probability of depression. But depression can also be the cause of stress. An example of the former is the increased depression among Gen Z adults (18 to 23 years old) during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, another study involving people with non-chronic major depression found that stressful life events were significantly linked to depressive episodes.
Besides stress, other factors contributing to a low mood include hormone levels, family history, environmental factors, and taking certain medications.
Stress can cause various gastrointestinal problems, such as bloating, cramping, inflammation, and overeating or undereating. This is because the brain and gut are constantly in communication. According to research published in the book Neuroscience, more neurons reside in the gut than in the entire spinal cord.
This brain-gut connection can be seen in several studies, such as the one that investigated 2,699 children. The researchers found that exposure to stressful events was associated with an increased risk of constipation.
As for changes in appetite, one study looked at college students. The researchers found that 81% declared shifts in appetite when they were stressed out—62% said an increase in feelings of hunger, while 38% saw a decrease. Stress' impact on appetite can also explain why weight fluctuations are common during stressful periods.
However, it's also good to remember that other factors can cause digestive issues, such as hydration and physical activity levels, diet, and certain medications.
Diminished Energy and Insomnia
According to the Sleep Foundation, stress and anxiety often lead to insomnia and sleep problems. On the flip side, lack of proper sleep can also contribute to stress and decreased energy levels.
A study of 2,316 individuals showed that experiencing more stressful events was particularly associated with an increased risk of insomnia.
Although these studies show an association, they don't account for other factors that may have played a role. For example, dehydration, low blood sugar, a poor diet, or underactive thyroid may play a role in decreased energy levels.
Many studies have found stress to be a significant contributor to headaches. A large study showed that increased stress intensity was associated with an increased number of headache days participants experienced in a month. Another study found that among 150 military service members, 67% said their headaches were activated by stress.
However, if you experience a headache, you also need to consider other headache triggers, such as alcohol consumption, dehydration, and lack of sleep. Making sure that you have these basics down can help you narrow down the cause of your headache.
An increased heart rate can also be a symptom of elevated stress. One study measured heart rate reactivity in response to stressful and non-stressful events, finding that the participants' heart rates were significantly higher during stressful situations.
In another study involving 87 students, the researchers found that heart rate and blood pressure increased after exposure to a stressful task. But the study showed that playing relaxing music during the task helped keep heart rate and blood pressure steady.
But it's good to keep in mind that a rapid heartbeat can also be caused by other factors, such as drinking large amounts of caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, certain heart conditions, high blood pressure, and thyroid disease.
Besides being a symptom experienced by new amputees or amputees with new prosthetic limbs, excessive sweating may also indicate stress. One study of 40 teenagers found that exposure to stress led to high amounts of sweat and odor.
Another study looked at 20 individuals with palmar hyperhidrosis, a condition denoted by excess sweating in the palms. The researchers found that exercise and stress significantly raised the rate of sweating.
However, other causes of excessive sweating may also include heat exhaustion, anxiety, thyroid conditions, and certain medications.
Stress may take a toll on many aspects of health. But the good news is that there are many ways to relieve stress, including yoga, exercising, and mindfulness.